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Sir Norman William Kater (1874–1965)

by Martha Rutledge

This article was published:

Sir Norman William Kater (1874-1965), medical practitioner, grazier and politician, was born on 18 November 1874 at Brush Farm, Ryde, New South Wales, second son of native-born parents Henry Edward Kater and his wife Mary Eliza, daughter of William Forster. He was educated at All Saints' College, Bathurst, in 1886-88 and Sydney Grammar School in 1889-91, where he excelled at rifle-shooting.

Resident in St Paul's College while he studied medicine at the University of Sydney (M.B., Ch.M., 1898), he won the Haswell prize (1893) and Renwick scholarship (1894), and rowed for the university. He was resident medical officer at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in 1898, then worked his way to Britain as ship's surgeon. He spent three months studying midwifery at the Rotunda Hospital, Dublin, and his spare time hunting. Later he attended courses at specialist hospitals in London.

On his return to Sydney, Kater bought a practice at College Street. He married Jean Gaerloch Mackenzie on 25 February 1901 at St James' Church. After the death of his elder brother in 1902 he reluctantly abandoned his practice and bought Nyrang near Molong. He was a member of the Boree Shire Council in 1906-11.

When his father and uncle divided the Mumblebone stud in 1906 he joined his father in H. E. Kater & Son and supervised the Egelabra merino stud, near Warren. By 1911 he had virtually exterminated rabbits there and at Nyrang.

Late in 1915, Kater went to Egypt to assist the Australian Red Cross commissioner (Sir) Adrian Knox. He soon departed for France and joined the French Service de Santé Militaire, working at the St Rome base hospital near Toulouse. Unable to enlist in the Australian Imperial Force in London, he returned to Sydney in 1917 and in October joined the Australian Army Medical Corps. He worked at the Military Hospital, Randwick, and, promoted captain and temporary major, from January 1918 to February 1919 as A.A.M.C. adjutant at Victoria Barracks. For his services in France he was appointed chevalier of the Légion d'honneur and awarded the Médaille de la Reconnaissance Française.

After the war Kater returned to pastoral pursuits. He sold Nyrang in 1920 and bought a house in Sydney; in 1924 he inherited Mount Broughton near Moss Vale, where he spent most weekends. In 1915-64 he was a council-member of the Graziers' Association of New South Wales. As president in 1922-24, he successfully opposed Sir John Higgins's attempt to turn the British Australian Wool Realisation Association Ltd into a permanent central organization for the stabilization of the wool industry. In 1923 he had to contend with a long and bitter strike by shearers for shorter hours. In the summer of 1927-28 he was chairman of the Federal Pastoral Advisory Committee. Knighted in 1929, he was appointed to the State committee of the Commonwealth Council for Scientific and Industrial Research that year.

With the aid of his expert classer E. H. Wass, Kater kept the Egelabra flock pure, despite the popularity of 'wrinkley' sheep in the early twentieth century. At the Sydney Sheep Show he won the Stonehaven cup for pens of five in 1933, 1938, 1939 and 1940 and bred the grand champion merino ram in 1938 and 1940. About 1939 he took his sons into partnership and later formed H. E. Kater & Son Pty Ltd, with himself as governing director. He was president of the New South Wales Sheepbreeders' Association in 1940-44. From the 1920s Kater had developed important business interests — he was chairman of the Co-operative Wool and Produce Co. Ltd, and a director of the Colonial Sugar Refining Co. (1924-49), the Graziers' Co-operative Shearing Co. Ltd (Grazcos) (from 1919), Globe Worsted Mills Ltd (from 1927), Newcastle-Wallsend Coal Co. (from 1933) and a local director of the Liverpool and London and Globe Insurance Co. Ltd.

A member of the central council of the Progressive Party, Kater was nominated to the Legislative Council in 1923. Elected to the reconstituted council in 1933 and 1942, he did not seek re-election in 1954. In the council he spoke briefly and to the point and strongly opposed J. T. Lang's governments.

'Austere in his speech and in his dress', Sir Norman was tall, handsome, clean shaven, with smooth silver hair and 'very piercing blue eyes'. Shy and unable 'to stand fools lightly', he sometimes gave the impression of arrogance. He played polo as a young man, enjoyed tennis, golf, bowls and bridge, and loved the theatre and ballet. His first wife died in London in 1931. At St Mark's, Darling Point, on 14 January 1938 he married Mary (d.1969), daughter of L. A. B. Wade, but they later separated. He was president of the Australian Club in 1945-49 and belonged to the Union Club, Sydney, the Queensland Club and the Junior Carlton in London. Appointed to the State advisory committee of the Australian Broadcasting Commission in 1949, he was chairman of the Institute of Public Affairs in 1951.

Sir Norman died in St Luke's Hospital, Darlinghurst, on 18 August 1965, and was cremated with Anglican rites. He was survived by four sons and two daughters of his first marriage, who inherited his estate, valued for probate at £238,801. Fluent in French and widely read, Sir Norman gave outstanding service to the pastoral industry and to the wider community. His portrait by an unknown artist is held by the family.

Select Bibliography

  • New South Wales Sheepbreeders' Association, The Australian Merino (Syd, 1955)
  • D. S. Macmillan, The Kater Family 1750-1965 (Syd, 1966)
  • Pastoral Review, 18 May 1962
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 25 Sept 1915, 8 July, 31 Dec 1918, 8 Dec 1920, 3 June 1922, 1 Mar 1929, 19 Mar 1941, 19 Aug 1965
  • Australian National Review, 20 Aug 1923
  • Land (Sydney), 29 Apr 1955
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 29 May 1956
  • Kater family papers (National Library of Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

Martha Rutledge, 'Kater, Sir Norman William (1874–1965)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 16 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (Melbourne University Press), 1983

View the front pages for Volume 9

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


18 November, 1874
Ryde, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


18 August, 1965 (aged 90)
Darlinghurst, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.